- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

ALGIERS — Bombs heavily damaged the Algerian prime minister’s office and a police station yesterday, killing at least 24 persons and wounding about 160, the country’s official news agency said. An Al Qaeda faction in North Africa took responsibility.

Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, who was not hurt, called the attacks a “cowardly, criminal terrorist act” as he spoke to reporters outside his wrecked offices.

The attacks were a devastating setback for the North African nation’s efforts to close the chapter on its Islamist insurgency that has killed 200,000 people. After years of relative calm, the al Qaeda affiliate recently has waged several smaller attacks in the oil- and gas-rich nation.

According to Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera, a spokesman for al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa took responsibility for the attacks, saying they were carried out by three suicide bombers in trucks packed with explosives. The spokesman said the bombers targeted three sites: the government headquarters in Algiers and the Interpol offices and a special police forces building in the suburb of Bab Ezzouar.

Mr. Belkhadem declined to say how many had been killed or wounded. The official Algerie Presse Service agency said at least 24 persons were killed and 160 wounded in the two attacks but gave no breakdown. The other bombing targeted the police station of Bab Ezzouar, east of the capital, on the road to its airport.

Witnesses said at least one of the attacks appeared to have been a car bomb.

A blackened, wrecked car sat on the pavement about 98 feet from the gates of the government building — a modern high-rise that also houses the Interior Ministry.

The attacks were the deadliest to hit the Algiers region since 2002, when a bomb in a suburban market killed 38 persons and injured 80.

On Tuesday in neighboring Morocco, police surrounded a building in Casablanca where four terrorism suspects were holed up, prompting three to flee and blow themselves up with explosives. The fourth was fatally shot by a police sharpshooter as he apparently tried to detonate his bomb. A police officer was killed, and 10 persons, including a young child and a policeman, were injured.

Since five suicide bombings that killed 45 persons in Morocco in May 2003, police have carried out an unprecedented crackdown on suspected militants by arresting thousands of people, including some accused of working with al Qaeda and its affiliates to plot attacks in Morocco and abroad.

Algeria’s insurgency broke out in 1992, after the army canceled legislative elections that an Islamic party appeared set to win. Since then, violence related to the insurgency has left an estimated 200,000 dead, according to the government.

Algeria’s main militant group — the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, known by its French abbreviation GSPC — recently changed its name to al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa and began targeting foreigners — signs that the country’s dwindling ranks of Islamic fighters were regrouping.

Al Jazeera said its office in Rabat, Morocco, received a telephone call from a spokesman for al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa, identified as Abu Mohammed Salah, who took responsibility for the attacks.

The caller said that the attacks were carried out by three al Qaeda members in trucks “filled” with explosives.

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